'iPad Killer' May be Palm's Last Hope

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The Apple iPad has captured the imagination--and a fair share of the news headlines for the past few months. Palm has been in the headlines as well, but for entirely different reasons. Perhaps, Palm could reverse its fortunes and regain its former glory if it went back to its PDA roots and developed a tablet PC to compete with the iPad?

Palm could rebound by returning to its PDA roots and creating a WebOS-based tablet to compete with the iPad.
Humor me. Let's consider this for a second. Palm's future isn't looking very bright. While a different business strategy may have led to entirely different results, the reality is that Palm is dragging in last place for smartphone market share with little hope of rebounding.

Palm fans are quick to share the belief that it is a superior smartphone platform. Comments from readers on recent articles include:

• "Palm Pre's multitasking capability is second to none and still holds the best record of maximum simultaneous running apps (Plus). No matter how you look at it, having the ability to run multiple 3rd party applications is far more advanced than iPhone's inability to do the same."

• "The Palm Pre is still a superior product and the benefits of WebOS are still undeniable. If you did a poll on the majority of Palm Pre owners, I'm sure you'll find that most will respond positively satisfied."

• "I find the iPhone comical next to my Palm Pre. It is true that if all apps remembered where they were at, multi-tasking would be less necessary. However, multi-tasking is still better. I can look up information on my Pre and then use it in another app without closing either of them."

It seems that those relative few who have the Palm Pre or some other WebOS-based smartphone from Palm not only like it, but passionately believe it is superior--even to the vaunted iPhone. I can't shake the feeling, though, that Palm users sound a lot like IBM OS/2 and Commodore Amiga loyalists clinging to dying technologies as the ship is going down.

Palm has a proud heritage, though. Before the BlackBerry was the "CrackBerry", the Palm PDA was a ubiquitous business tool. Business professionals had to have a Palm to sync up calendar events and contact databases. Prior to the convergence of the two to create the concept of smartphones, a Palm PDA was a required companion to the cell phone for mobile business professionals.

The PDA ship has sailed--but Palm has a new opportunity to return to its roots by taking WebOS and building a tablet PC to compete with the iPad. There is a lot to like about WebOS--it has excellent multitasking, solid messaging and calendaring functions, and the innovative Synergy user interface for managing and interacting with various social networks.

While there are PC loyalists that feel the tablet PC should be defined by a "real" operating system such as Windows 7, the approach taken by Apple with the iPad has been to use the iPhone mobile OS. The result is more a portable media consumption device than a mobile computer, but it has instant-on and superior battery life among other things. Palm could leverage similar advantages with a WebOS tablet.

Palm could abandon the smartphone market altogether, or use a successful tablet device to rebuild brand recognition and customer loyalty that might bolster the smartphone side of the business. Now that Palm's WebOS devices are also available from Verizon, and will soon be available from AT&T, there is at least some potential that devices like the Palm Pre could expand its market.

Palm is on life support and has little hope of competing seriously in the smartphone market. When all else fails, go back to the drawing board, fall back on the strengths the company was built on, and crank out a WebOS tablet worthy of the Palm name.

Bring on the "iPad killer".

Tony Bradley is co-author of Unified Communications for Dummies . He tweets as @Tony_BradleyPCW . You can follow him on his Facebook page , or contact him by email at tony_bradley@pcworld.com .

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